That's for Thailand
Trip Start Mar 08, 2011
84Trip End Jun 11, 2011
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Where I stayed
Cozy House Inn
Now that my Jerry Maguire style rant is out of the way, back to the blog. Once again we woke up before 6am…what kind of vacation is this? This is the first time we booked transportation through a third party company. In the past it was either through our hotel, who if there were any problems, we could always give bad reviews (which is their lifeblood in this industry), or directly through the bus/ferry/plane company. So to say I was nervous about what the transportation would be like and whether they would actually come through is an understatement (you hear a lot of stories when on the road). We were told that we would be picked up between 6:30 and 7am.
We still had 30 minutes till the ferry left, so not sure why the driver was racing through the streets like we were already late. So we go to the end of the pier and wait for the boat to arrive. The ferry finally arrives and we immediately notice that it is not the same as the luxury catamarans we took to Koh Tao, Koh Phangan, and Koh Samui. The boat was a little older, slower, and smellier (smelled like gasoline), but at least each seat had a life jacket, so we jump on board. The ride was fairly smooth and we arrived on the mainland around an hour and a half later where we are separated into buses depending on our final location. We are also joined by a ferry that came from Koh Phangan and we take the larger bus to the town of Surat Thani which is an hour away. The bus was fairly standard compared to what we have become accustomed to traveling throughout SE Asia: aircon that barely flows out of the vents and loud music, but this time it was classic rock (Rock Me Like a Hurricane) which had the same 3 songs on repeat for the entire hour.
We get close to Surat Thani and the bus makes a right hand turn down a dirt path. I immediately turn to Amy and exclaim “Here we go!?!?” as we pull into their “office” which is a graveyard of old buses and parts. The seats look like they came from an old bus or a plane that crashed in the area twenty years ago. We wait in line where they slap on a sticker to you with your final location.
Our minibus finally came and as expected it was a little outdated. Additionally they squeezed in an extra row of seats in the back, so there was not a trunk for the bags (which each person had 1 or 2 of). On top of this there were already 4 people on the bus. So the driver gave us the look, you know, the look of how can I get all of these people in here. He takes out the bags that are already on the bus and plays a game of Tetris with the customers. He starts by placing Amy and the hippy couple in the last row with a 4th man who was holding a plant on his lap (he was one of the people already on the bus). The last row had no leg room and the seats were raised (so Amy’s head was just an inch away from the ceiling). Then he loaded the next 3 smallest people (me and two German brothers) in the second to last row.
We start to take off for the 4 hour trip to Hat Yai (a city in southern Thailand). The control for the aircon is in the back, so we immediately turn it all the way to high as it was getting a little steamy in there. We drive for around thirty minutes when we stop at what seems to be a local bus stop and bring in a Thai man in the front seat. We then drive another 30 minutes and grab a Thai woman, again for the front. I guess this is what he meant by “that’s for Thailand” as they all squeezed into the front row. I am pretty sure they were all his buddies heading south for a vacation and getting a free ride as us farangs (what they call foreigners) who actually paid for the trip were thrown in the back. To make things worse, the driver comes to the back and turns down the aircon. This guy is really starting to get on my nerves. We make it 2 hours (on a road where Amy bangs her head after each bump we go over and the hippy couple next to her split their time evenly between sleeping, making out, and playing rock, paper, scissors) where we need gas. One by one, we get off the minibus to stretch our legs (climbing over all of the bags that were placed everywhere). The gas station has a food court and a bathroom, but we are told to get back on in 3 minutes (the 3 minutes turns into 10 minutes because hippies prefer to make out rather than board the bus, and since they sit in the back, no one else can board until they do).
Back on board, we are told that we have another stop in 30 minutes for lunch. We could have eaten lunch at the gas station’s food court, but we needed to go to a specific restaurant that pays the company. We have 300 baht left to spend, but lunch is only 50. So we use the rest of the money to buy cashews (because everyone my age eats cashews) and a cake (all of the locals are buying this cake for some reason).
We get to the bus company office in Hat Yai where we are once again broken up into groups based on destination. So we lose the KL and Singapore people and pick up a girl coming from Krabi (beach on the other side of Thailand). After giving passport information to expedite the border crossing, we got on a different minibus that was a little older, but had a lot more room. And we got a new minibus driver that was all business. It was 5pm at this point and we were originally told we would make it to Penang at 7, so doing the math, we only had 1 more hour to go (since there is a time change to add the other hour). The girl from Krabi broke the news to us that we still had 4 more hours, ugggghhhh. We make it to the border in just over an hour. The bus driver tells us to go through, and come back when we are done. We make it through Thai border control quickly, but have to wait for she-hippy to pay her 500 baht fine for going a day over her visa limit, and then wait a little longer for her to chat with he-hippy. At this point they are getting a little annoying, so I ask them if they wouldn’t mind chatting on the bus so we could get to our destination. The Malaysia border crossing took a little longer as they let locals cut in line. But this gave me 15 minutes to watch our travel mates make out some more.
We made it to Penang around 10pm. Everyone on our bus (except us) were staying at the same hostel, so we all get dropped off there. We didn’t care, we just wanted to get away from these people. Typically we love meeting new travelers, but after 15 hours we had enough. Amy and I got a taxi to our hotel. The man running the front desk couldn’t have been nicer. We ask about the best way to get to Kuala Lumpur the next day and he goes into detail about why it is better to take the bus over a train.
We continue on to dinner at a night market. There are 10 food stalls with tables in the middle. Penang (along with Singapore) is known as the food capital of SE Asia because of their unusal history of Malay and Chinese roots. Our Lonely Planet guide has a list of 6 must try foods from the area. So we go around to the stalls trying to find what looked good and sampled a few of the local delicacies.